Tanzina: I'm Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway and we're continuing our series, “A Votar,” where we talk about Latino voters ahead of the 2020 election and the issues that matter most to them. Today we're doing something a little different and we're turning to Latino candidates, specifically, those who are running for Congress. This year, a number of Latino Democratic candidates are running for House seats that could make history. On the ballot are candidates who could become the first LGBTQ Latina in Congress, the first Afro Latino, and the first Native American veteran. For more on these candidates and how they're resonating with Latino voters. We're joined by a friend of the show, Nicole Acevedo, a digital reporter for NBC News. Nicole. Great to have you as always.
Nicole: Of course. Thank you.
Tanzina: Who and how many people are we seeing Latinos running for Congress this year compared to previous years?
Nicole: We had a really good year last time in the 2018 midterms when we have a record number of Latinos confirmed to the House. Essentially what we're seeing is them getting reelected, and a bunch of other Latinos trying to grab seats from either candidates that people from Congress had decided to retire or are just challenging other seats.
Tanzina: What are some of the reasons why people are running? Because one of the things we've heard historically is that there aren't that many Latino leaders in particular. Why do people say that they're running this year?
Nicole: No and I mean, even with the record number of seats in Congress last time around, that was still not proportionate to the amount of Latinos that live in this country. From talking to candidates that could potentially make history in Congress this November, a lot of things that they had in common was that their races were very personal to them in the sense of growing up with live experiences that maybe other members of Congress have not had and then thinking that if they were in positions of power, where they can make policy based on those lived experiences not only on all their experience they might have have government or the non-profit sector, maybe things could change for future generations. That's to remind ourselves that the Latino population is the largest minority group in the country, and we have 1 million Latinos turning 18 every year for the next decade or two. We have a lot of Latinos coming of age, old enough to be able to be in positions of power and make policy, and also thinking about the ones that are coming behind them.
Tanzina: I want to talk a little bit about who these folks are. Let's start with Ritchie Torres. He's making some moves here in New York City, right?
Nicole: Oh yes. Ritchie Torres, if he is elected for Congress, this November, he would become the first openly LGBTQ Latino in Congress. The likelihood of him making history is very high because he would essentially be taking over this seat of Congressman José Serrano, who was a 16-term Democrat from the South Bronx. Given that as a historically Democratic district, his chances of being elected are really, really high and his upbringing in the South Bronx was like many people in that community, public housing, public schools, public hospitals. His platform, his campaign platform is about, "Hey, I grew up in these communities, I understand their need, and am I going to advocate for those needs when I get to Congress."
Tanzina: Nicole, what about folks like Candace Valenzuela in Texas and Rudy Soto in Idaho?
Nicole: Candace Valenzuela, it's in a really interesting position because she's essentially in what we often referred to as a toss-up race, which means that it's 50/50. It could go 50/50 Republican, or it could go 50/50 Democrat. She's a candidate looking to flip that seat for the Democrats and the Democrats feel like they have a really good chance with her. If she's elected, she will become the first Afro-Latina, the first Black Latina to be elected to Congress. It's a big deal, not only because she would make history by being the first Afro-Latina, but because she could potentially help the house either keep their current power or gain more ground in that area.
Tanzina: What about on the Republican side, Nicole? Are there any emerging Latino voices there?
Nicole: They are. We have, interestingly enough, in New Mexico. We have that as our Teresa Leger Fernandez, who's a Democrat, but her opponent, Alexis Johnson has told local media in New Mexico that she identifies as Hispanic and has a Hispanic ancestry and Native American ancestry. You basically essentially have two Latinas facing each other for the third congressional district in New Mexico. However, that seat has been historically Democrat. It was held by Ben Ray Lujan, who is leaving the House now and he's running for the Senate and he's currently the assistant speaker. Even though we have a Republican there who are basically two Latinos facing each other, it's very likely that the Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez will prevail. We also have a Latina Republican in New York. Again, it's New York, which is predominantly Democrat. Her chances of her winning are slim but if she does, she will be the first Republican Latina to win a seat in New York
Tanzina: Does having more Latino candidates on the ballot signify that there might be more Latino turnout at the polls or is that still too early to tell?
Nicole: It's too early to tell and not necessarily. Research historically shows that what really turns Latinos out to the polls is how you reach out to them, especially in-person voter outreach is the most successful tactic. In the middle of the pandemic, that has become very challenging for campaigns and grassroots organizations mobilizing Latinos. But we've seen so far in early voting an increasing number of Latinos voting and young Latinos voting, many people for the first time. I think it's an added thing that, "Oh, if they are Latino and they also stand for the things I believe in and they showed up to my door," and things like that, the likelihood increases, but I don't think there's necessarily a correlation there, that because there's more Latino candidates, we're seeing more Latino voter turnout.
Tanzina: We're also seeing a lot of this is just for the House of Representatives. What about the Senate? That is one of the least diverse branches of our federal government and I'm just wondering whether any Latinos have a chance of breaking into that upper chamber.
Nicole: No. We had four Latinos in the senate if I'm not mistaken. As it comes to Latinas, the only one is still Catherine Cortez Masto and she's the sole Latina running right now for Senate. We also have people like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mario Diaz Balart, Bob Menendez, that are familiar faces to the Senate, but we're not seeing enough new faces there like we are seeing in the House.
Tanzina: Do we know why that is? Is that usually a question of money, connections, or all of the above?
Nicole: All of the above, really. I also think, in terms of the Senate, it's a little bit harder, just in the way their districts are laid out. You have more chances in the House to go more granular into who are communities and who are representing them?
Tanzina: Nicole Acevedo is a digital reporter for NBC News. Nicole, thanks for joining us.
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